Exploration 1: Welcome to Online Productivity!


Welcome to Online Productivity, a project designed to help BPS educators become familiar with a few key tools that can help them get organized and prepare for 21st-Century Teaching.

In this self-paced tutorial, you’ll scale the very tip of the tech tools iceberg.  As a result of your explorations, you will leave this experience able to:

  • Create and use a blog
  • Use social bookmarking to organize, sort, and describe your favorite Web sites so you can access them from any machine anywhere
  • Learn an easy way to gather newspaper articles and blogs in a single location for personal enjoyment and professional growth
  • Explore your choice of tools to help you organize your to-do list, keep track of information, learn about microblogging, or organize your classroom or personal library
  • Bring all those tools together into a personalized home page that you can access from anywhere
  • Reflect on what it all means

Future online professional development will be available throughout the 09-10 year, and your building media specialist is available throughout the school year to give advice or learn alongside you.

What is this project about? How is it organized?

This independent learning project is divided into steps (we call them “Explorations”) to help you experiment and experience a variety of tools.  At first, you will likely view these tools through a personal lens, thinking of how they might help you keep up with professional reading (RSS), communicate with students and parents (blogs), cluster onine resources together (iGoogle home page) or organize your favorite Web sites (social bookmarking).  As you become more familiar with how these tools have helped you, you’ll naturally extend your thinking into how these tools might impact how students learn in your classroom.

You will track your reflective thinking by setting up a blog (Exploration 3) and posting after each Exploration.  You are encouraged to visit the blogs of other participants (listed in the blogroll in the right-hand column) to view their perspectives.  Go ahead — leave them a comment of support or encouragement!

This journey is based on the past experiences of hundreds of prior participants around the world.  All participants are welcome, but to help us keep track of you, we ask that you register through the registration form (see the link on the right sidebar) when you get to Exploration 2 and set up your blog.

What is the timeline?

You have until September 1, 2009, to complete this project.   While you can work at any speed, we’ve divided the journey into weekly components for those who like a bit more structure.

Can I get credit or PD hours for this?
Yup. 5 hours on KALPA.

How do I navigate the project?
You can click on the links below to get to the directions for each step, or click on the Exploration number under the categories list in the near-right column.

Will there be face-to-face instruction? What about tech support?
This is a self-paced independent study course running on volunteer manpower.  However, your school library media specialist is available to help you if you run into a snag.    (We’re sorry, but we can’t help you with home computer repairs or troubleshooting.)

Where did this idea come from? Who is behind the scenes!
This project was inspired by and adapted from Helene Blowers and her Learning 2.0 project, portions of which are replicated here under a Creative Commons license.

What are the Explorations?

Click on the links to be taken to more detailed information about each Exploration.  Beginning with Exploration 2 you will note your reflections and observations in your blog.  You are welcome to move at your own pace, but if you like more structure, you can pace yourself with weekly tasks.

Week of June 15: Getting Started
1.  Read through this project home page to learn about the program.
2.  Set up your own blog, write a few practice posts, and register your blog with our project.

Week of June 22: Keeping Track of Web Resources
3.  Organize your favorite and bookmarked Web sites with Del.icio.us

Week of July 6: Finding and Using RSS Feeds & Other Tools for Personal Growth and Professional Development

4.  Learn about RSS feeds and set up your an account to gather them in one place.
5.  Learn about at least one of these tools to keep you organized: microblogging (Twitter), to-do lists (Remember the Milk), the photos and little bits of information that you used to write on scraps of paper (Evernote), or your reading log or personal library (LibraryThing).

Week of July 13: iGoogle
6.  Bring in all these tools into a personalized iGoogle home page.

Week of July 20: Reflection
7. Summarize your thoughts, lessons learned, and new undertstandings that might transfer to your classroom next year.

Next Steps
Now that you’ve read through this page, you’ve completed Exploration 1. (That was easy!)  Let’s go on to Exploration 2 and set up a blog.

Exploration 3: Social Bookmarking with Delicious

Most of us know how to use Favorites (in Internet Explorer) or Bookmarks (in Mozilla Firefox) to save our favorite Web sites.  But what happens when you’re at home, and your Favorites are on your school computer? Or, worse, what happens when your computer crashes or gets reimaged, and all of your Favorites are wiped out? Or what if you have a whole bunch of favorite Web sites and wish it were easier to keep track of them?

Those are all key reasons  why using a social bookmarking tool like Del.icio.us can add so much to productivity.

Del.icio.us does so much more than that, though.  It not only saves the Web address or URL for the sites you like.  It allows you to save a snippet of that page’s text and to label it with tags.  Tagging is an open and informal method of categorizing that allows users to associate keywords with online content (webpages, pictures & posts). Tagging is completely unstructured and freeform, allowing users to create connections between data anyway they want.  (The opposite of tagging is “controlled vocabulary,” like the subject headings that lovely library cataloguers use.)You’ve already encountered tagging in exploring Flickr, and you’ll also see tags next week, when you look at LibraryThing.

Many users find that the real power of Del.icio.us is in the social network aspect, which allows you to see how other users have tagged similar links and also discover other websites that may be of interest to you. You can think of it as peering into another users’ filing cabinet, but with this powerful bookmarking tool each user’s filing cabinet helps to build an expansive knowledge network.  (And if you’re a private person, you can keep things private, too.)

For this exploration:

1.  Watch Common Craft’s excellent video introduction to Del.icio.us and social bookmarking.

2.  View the 8 minute Del.icio.us tutorial to get a good overview of its features.

3.  Create a Del.icio.us account for yourself and discover how this useful bookmarking tool can replace your traditional browser bookmark list.  Try bookmarking and tagging a few of your favorite sites.

4.  Create a blog post about your experience titled “Exploration 3: Delicious.”  Reflect on the potential relevance of Web-based, social bookmarking to your personal life, professional life, and students’ learning.  Are there any particular safety or privacy issues to consider?

This post is adapted from Helene Blowers’ original Learning 2.0 project under a Creative Commons license.

Exploration 4: RSS Feeds and Google Reader

Have you seen these funny icons on Web sites? If so, you’ve already heard something about RSS feeds. Maybe you’ve heard co-workers and acquaintances swear by it, but still have no idea what RSS is? Or maybe you just miss getting the daily newspaper delivered and haven’t gotten into the groove of getting the news delivered to you online.

RSS is simple to use but can revolutionize how you read the paper, keep up with professional reading, stay in touch with folks who have the same hobbies that you do, and more.

RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication” and is a means by which you can receive regularly updated information from your favorite blogs and newspapers.  The information that comes to you is called a “feed.”

Just think about the websites and news information sources you visit every day. It takes time to visit those sites and scour the ad-filled and image-heavy pages for just the text you want to read, doesn’t it? And isn’t it disappointing when you don’t find anything new waiting for you?

Now imagine if you could visit all those information sources and web pages in just one place and all at the same time … without being bombarded with advertising… without having to search for new information on the page you’d already seen or read before… and without having to consume a lot of time visiting each site individually.

It’s as easy as setting up an RSS aggregator, which is a fancy way of saying, “An online place that collects all of your favorite stuff and dumps it in one place.”  We’re going to use Google Reader as that central collecting place.

For this exploration:

1.  Watch the Common Craft video about RSS.  It makes RSS easy!

2.  Watch the Google Reader tour.

3.  Sign up for an account with Google Reader. To do this, you’re going to have to set up a Google account (unless you already have a Gmail account).  There are other aggregators that you can use (like NetVibes or Bloglines), but once you’ve set up a Google account, you can use it for Gmail, a blog on Blogger (though we’ve used Edublogs), and later to set up your iGoogle page.

3.  Add a few blogs to Bloglines by clicking the “Add a Subscription” button in the top-left corner and pasting in the URL of a favorite blog.  under the Feeds tab and pasting the URL into the box.  You can find a list of some professional and fun blogs you might want to follow by clicking here.

4.  Go browsing for some blogs that might fit your particular interests:

  • When visiting your favorite websites, look for RSS or news feed icons that indicate the website provides it.
  • Use Google Reader’s “Browse for Stuff” option (left navigation column) to browse for more feeds based on your personal and professional interests.
  • Try a blog finder like Technorati to help you search for blogs.   See what happens if you type in the names of people you know!

5.  Write a blog entry titled “Exploration 4: RSS Feeds” about your experience.  Then reflect on the potential relevance of RSS to your personal life, professional life, and students’ learning. Are there any particular safety or privacy issues to consider?

This post is adapted from Helene Blowers’ original Learning 2.0 project under a Creative Commons license.

Exploration 5: Other Productivity Tools

One of the key ideas behind the Web 2.0 explosion is that there can be many tools to meet many users’ needs.  If a tool doesn’t do what you need, or if another tool is better, switch!  Following that train of thought, this Exploration lets you choose the tool to try.

Choose one (or more!) of the following tools to explore and reflect upon in your blog. Please title your post “Exploration 5” and the name of the tool you tried.

Option 1: Evernote

Are you the kind of person who has drawers full of random papers and no way to organize them? Do you wish you had an “external brain” that could remember stuff for you? Do you need a place to store and search ideas, quotes, photos, and more? Do you wish you could sync your to-do list on both your computers and your mobile device? Then Evernote might be a good match for you.  It can even search words within a photo! Start by learning more about Evernote here or on this YouTube video.  Note: Evernote does have a component that requires a download.  If you’re an iPhone user, you can download the Evernote app and automatically sync between your iPhone and the Web on any computer, anywhere.

Option 2: Remember the Milk

Another way to organize your tasks on both your computer and mobile device, with instant syncing of information via the Web.  Even manage your tasks via Twitter! Learn more here or in this YouTube video.  No download required.  Remember when you got a Gmail account earlier in this module in order to register for Google Reader? You can embed a Remember the Milk into your Gmail page! Remember the Milk also has a free iPhone app for effortless syncing between your handheld and your Web-based subsciption.

Option 3: Twitter

Twitter is a micro-blogging site, meaning that it makes really small blog posts – generally no more than two sentences.  Like the blog you’re using for this tutorial, it’s a way for you to write your thoughts and share them with others, but unlike your blog, you’re limited to just 140 characters.  Your post is called a Tweet.  You can use Twitter to communicate with others as well.   Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Oprah,and Steven Colbert are among the celebrity Twitters.  Learn more about Twitter in this Common Craft video or at Educause.  Twitter’s “Find People” feature will help you connect to education folks like Sir Ken Robinson, Steve Dembo, Will Richardson, David Warlick, Doug Johnson, Joyce Valenza, and more.  Many publishers and corporations now announce new services or provide customer service via Twitter (Comcast and Southwest Airlines are two notable users.)  Once you’ve found someone whose Tweets you would like to follow, you can follow them either within Twitter or by putting their unique URL into your Google Reader account.

But Twitter can also help you find information about trends.  For example, in mid-June, many events surrounding the elections in Iran were recorded via Twitter.  Twitter Search gives you the option of finding what others have to say about current events (Iran elections), pop culture (the new iPhone or reality TV), technology, or hobbies.  Common Craft is at it again with this Twitter Search overview video. Sign up for Twitter and give it a whirl.  Want to connect with someone from BPS? Find Kristin (@activelearning) at http://twitter.com/activelearning.

Option 4: LibraryThing

OK, admit it. You’re harboring a secret desire to be a librarian.  No? Oh.  Too bad.  Well, maybe you want to catalog the books in your classroom or keep track of what you’re reading.  Or maybe you’re a Civil War buff and you wonder who else reads what you do.  LibraryThing can accomplish all of this.  And you can even pick up an RSS feed and put it into your Google Reader account. (Heads-up: LibraryThing restricts accounts to users who are at least 13 years old.)  Take the tour here or watch this YouTube video.  Sign up for an account (you can mark it Private if you like) and give it a whirl! Your account is free for your first 200 books.

Enjoy exploring … and remember to post an “Exploration 5: ______” post on your blog!

updated 6/17/09

Exploration 6: Pulling it All Together with iGoogle

You may be wondering how all of the products in this module relate.  Well, you can use them all on their own. Or … you can further organize your online life by clustering them all together on a single page.

iGoogle lets you create your own home page, personalized with just the content you want, and you can bring in all of the tools we’ve used so far, plus more.  Want to know the weather at your cottage? Have a crossword puzzle at the ready? See a new piece of art or Ansel Adams photograph each day? Keep your latest additions to Delicous at your fingertips? Access Remember the Milk or Evernote? View your friends’ latest Tweets? View the RSS feeds of your sister’s LibraryThing account?  You can do all of that at iGoogle.  You can even add pages, which would give you a home page for school, another one for home, and a third for a hobby, for example.

You can even decorate the page with the theme of your choice.

Log into your iGoogle page from any computer to access your custom home page.

  1. Watch Google’s quick iGoogle video and video about adding “gadgets” to your home page.
  2. Go to iGoogle and log in using the Gmail username and password that you use for Google Reader.
  3. In the upper right corner, click Change Theme to change the look of your page or Add Stuff to search for gadgets that you can add to your home page.
  4. If you are on a computer that someone else could access (like a school or public library computer), be sure to log out of iGoogle when you are done or someone could access all of your Google tools!
  5. Time for blogging! On your blog, create a new post called “Exploration 6: iGoogle” and discuss how iGoogle could be useful to you at home or school.  (Just a heads-up that students under age 13 cannot get their own accounts, and you cannot use iGoogle to create a home page for others to access, as it will only be available to you with your login.)

Exploration 7: Reflection

Congratulations! You’ve come to the end of this module.  For this exploration:

  1. Read the National Educational Technology Standards for Students and for Teachers.
  2. Create a blog entry called “Exploration 6: Reflection.”  In this entry, think about what you have learned, how your learning throughout this module connects to the NETS, suggestions for how we could have made this experience better, and ideas for future professional development sessions.
  3. Pat yourself on the back and enjoy the rest of your summer!

Exploration 2: Setting Up a Blog

A blog is a kind of online journal or diary hosted on the Web.  You don’t need to own your own Web site or any special technology to blog, nor do you have to be an “expert.”  Millions of bloggers use Blogger, WordPress, or Edublogs to create free blogs.

Your entries are time and date stamped, and the newest information shows up on top.  Unlike a Web page, where you delete outdated content to make room for new content, a blog automatically archives older posts, so you can always access what has been written before.  Later on, you’ll learn about RSS feeds, which let people subscribe to many blogs and have the blogs’ content delivered right to a central location.

Blogs can serve lots of purposes in schools, too.  Here are a few ways in which they’re being used:

  • Principals post their newsletters or principal letters onto a blog.
  • Teachers use blogs to post daily homework, class photos, or student work.  Some teachers pose a question, and students use the comments feature to respond.
  • School librarians use blogs to post book reviews, update parents on programs, share student work, or distribute tech tips to teachers.
  • Students use blogs to track their thinking and progress throughout a school year or a specific project.
  • Blogs can last for years or focus on a single, short-term project (such as a series of photos to document the plant growth unit, a blog that tracks weather patterns, or a student research blog).
  • Some BPS staff members have set up book club blogs, asking participants to comment on what they’ve read at the conclusion of each chapter.

To complete this Exploration:

1.  Register for a blog at Edublogs. and watch the video tutorials to get familiar with how Edublogs work. It’s free, and its technology is built on WordPress, which is a kind of blogging platform.  It’s really best that you have a separate blog just for this project so that your posts relate to what we’re working on.  If you catch the blogging bug and want to set up a classroom blog for the fall, BPS can host a blog for you.  As you register, consider whether you want to blog publicly with your real name or blog using a psuedonym or nickname.  It’s up to you.  If we were working with students, we would recommend no last names and no personal details (school or church, friends’ names, teacher’s name, address/phone, etc.) to protect their privacy.

2.  Your Edublogs blog will automatically create a first post for you called “Hello, World!” You can keep it if you want or delete it.  Now it’s your turn to write.  Create an introductory blog post telling folks why you are embarking on this project.   To help us keep track of you, use, “Exploration 2: Blog Introduction” in the subject line.  You can be as personal or as anonymous as you like.

3.  Create a second blog post that reflects on the potential relevance of blogs to your personal life, professional life, and student learning.  Are there any particular safety or privacy issues to consider before embarking on a blogging project?

5.  In the right-hand column of this Web page, you will see “Register Your Blog” under the Pages heading.  Click there to let us know who you are, where you’re from, and what the URL (Web address) is for your blog.  We’ll list it on the blogroll (the list of blogs) on the home page of this project.

6.  Leave a comment on someone else’s blog.  The following may be useful guidelines if you choose to have students leave comments for one another in the future: be constructive, be kind, and be supportive.

This exploration is adapted from Helene Blowers’ original Learning 2.0 project (under a Creative Commons license).